I got your Big Government right here: Growth in TX convictions unhinged from crime levels

One purpose of this blog is to hone arguments in a more informal arena – using readers as a sort of raucous, unmannerly focus group to vet and refine them – before they’re presented in more formal settings such as legislative hearings, public policy reports, and the like. So I was pleased when a combative commenter came forward in a recent post to criticize how I’d portrayed crime rates, which Grits said were declining. While that’s true, Texas population increased about 20% over the last decade, meaning that even though crime rates per 100,000 dropped 25%, overall numbers of reported crime either remained steady or dropped only slightly throughout the decade. Here’s how my intrepid critic suggested we should think about index crimes in Texas since the turn of the century, expressed as a fraction of the 2001 reported index-crime total:

2001 – 1.00
2002 – 1.03
2003 – 1.04
2004 – 1.03
2005 – 1.01
2006 – 0.98
2007 – 1.01
2008 – 1.00
2009 – 1.02
2010 – 0.97
2011 – 0.91

His point was that, rather than crime declining, with the growing population the actual total number of reported index crimes remained mostly steady, dropping significantly only recently. Fair enough. And a clever way to present the data. I agree with my anonymous critic it allows for a better apples-to-apples comparison to the other data discussed. So now let’s compare reported crime figures to a similar ratio calculating the total number of felony convictions and deferred adjudication verdicts secured by Texas prosecutors over the same period:

2001: 1.00
2002: 1.05
2003: 1.18
2004: 1.20
2005: 1.28
2006: 1.30
2007: 1.42
2008: 1.37
2009: 1.38
2010: 1.36
2011: 1.42

To me, that says that Texas prosecutors no longer need more crime to secure more convictions, for reasons Glenn Reynolds has articulated. Prosecution is a growth industry. Here are the two ratios displayed together graphically, along with a similar metric for growth in arrests:

Convictions, Arrests and Reported Index Crime as a Fraction of 2001 levels, through 2011

Don’t like Big Government? There’s your Big Government. Find the underlying data, from various sources, in this chart.

See how increases in felony convictions and deferred adjudications have become disconnected from the amount of reported crime or even the number of arrests, rising at far higher rates? If the Legislature wants to close more prison units they must reduce upward pressure on prison admissions over the long term, and this chart shows where that pressure is coming from. The state could chop that top ratio down to size quickly by adjusting drug possession offenses down one notch and/or indexing property crime category thresholds to inflation, but will the Legislature, particularly brand spanking new Criminal Jurisprudence and Corrections Committees in the House with rookie chairmen, be willing to take such bold steps with no (public) plan on the table and little or no time to prepare? That remains to be seen. Like Fox Mulder, I want to believe.


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